Peter Thiel on Gawker: 'If I Didn't Do Something, Nobody Would'
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Billionaire Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel has acknowledged that he secretly financed Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker Media in an effort to put the news website out of business, according to The New York Times.
In an interview published Wednesday by The Times, Thiel said "it was worth fighting back" against the outlet, which in 2007 published an article titled "Peter Thiel is totally gay, people."
Thiel, who cofounded PayPal and sits on Facebook's board of directors, provided millions of dollars for Hogan's lawsuit and is apparently funding other cases.
The Times' Andrew Ross Sorkin noted that Thiel declined to reveal which other cases he supported.
"It's less about revenge and more about specific deterrence," Thiel told the newspaper in his first interview since the rumors that he funded the lawsuit reached a tipping point on Tuesday.
"I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest," Thiel said.
In a widely publicized privacy lawsuit this year, a Florida jury awarded Hogan, whose real name is Terry Gene Bollea, $140 million in damages from Gawker for publishing a sex tape in 2013 in which the former wrestler was featured. Neither the jury nor the public knew of Thiel's financial support of the case.
The tech investor told The Times he had been planning for years to secretly fund lawsuits against Gawker in an effort to shut the company down. He said the website published articles that "ruined people's lives for no reason."
"One of my friends convinced me that if I didn't do something, nobody would," he added.
"Most of the people they attack are not in my category. They usually attack less prominent, far less wealthy people that simply can't defend themselves."
Thiel insisted that his actions would not threaten the principles of a free press, a hallmark of the U.S. Constitution. "It's precisely because I respect journalists that I do not believe they are endangered by fighting back against Gawker," Thiel said.
The businessman previously contributed to the Committee to Protect Journalists, The Times reported.
Stephen Yang/New York Post via AP, PoolNick Denton, left, and A.J. Daulerio inside a Pinellas County courtroom on March 14 in St Petersburg, Fla., during Gawker's trial.
Gawker founder Nick Denton denounced Thiel's involvement in a statement to The Times:
"Just because Peter Thiel is a Silicon Valley billionaire, his opinion does not trump our millions of readers who know us for routinely driving big news stories including Hillary Clinton's secret email account, Bill Cosby's history with women, the mayor of Toronto as a crack smoker, Tom Cruise's role within Scientology, the N.F.L. cover-up of domestic abuse by players and just this month the hidden power of Facebook to determine the news you see."
In another blow to Gawker on Wednesday, a Florida judge refused to overturn the $140 million verdict against the news site.
The case will now go to a court of appeals. Gawker said it hoped the appeals court would "correct" the verdict and "reaffirm the law that protects a free and critical press, which is more embattled and important than ever."